50 Years Too Late

I came to value Creation Care 50 years too late.

When Fledge Fiamingo started Son Safaris I got involved, frankly, because of Fledge, rather than out of any great zeal for God’s creation. I am indebted to Son Safaris for drawing me into a deeper appreciation of creation and my place in it. That motivated me to try to understand and obey God’s mandate in Genesis 1:28(NIV):

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Rhino getting a GPS Collar

God created humans in His image as his representatives on earth to “rule over” the rest of creation. Rule implies lordship but not exploitation. As God’s representatives, we must rule His subjects, as He does: for their own good.

We have the right to use the world’s resources but have no right to abuse what God has created. This Biblical principle has made me ask why we humans behave in ways that are harmful to ourselves and to the environment.  Understanding why we engage in such aberrant behavior toward God’s creation is key to helping us change our behavior.

Do we practice behaviors harmful to the environment because we aren’t aware of the negative impact our actions have?  If so, then education and increased public awareness should stop our harmful behavior. How has that worked out? Not very well. We’ve pumped massive amounts of environmental facts into our school curicula, TV shows, movies, and social media without seeing proportionate behavioral changes.

So, what will it take to get us to change from creation destruction to creation care? Facts alone are not enough. They must be effectively paired with our individual values, motivations and convictions to effect the desired behavioral changes.

Faith based environment groups are critical to this process since more than 80% of all humans identify as persons of Faith. Faith influences not just our beliefs, but our understanding of the world and our preferences toward it. Our faith reinforces our behavior or provides the motivation to change it. Our faith provides a moral framework for both our individual behavior and our social interactions.

I am a faith-based person, but I am not a Muslim, Jew, Hindu or Buddhist. I am a Christian. So going forward I will speak not just as a faith based person but specifically as a Christian.

Christian Creation Care groups can be a powerful tool for producing a more sustainable world. How? By leading by example. Sociological studies show that when Christians set specific goals based on their faith, they monitor themselves and are more disciplined in meeting them than non faith based people. Balancing meeting human needs with protecting natural resources is the key to a sustainable future . Achieving this balance will require a massive shift in attitude and behavior. I believe earth scientists and activists need what Christian and other faith based groups bring to the table in order to accomplish attitudinal and behavioral changes at the scale required.

Christian groups like Son Safaris and environmental groups like the Welgevonden Research Camp can cooperate because they both hold a similar view of how humanity fits in the context of the larger world. Both groups see humans as part of and yet separate from the rest of the environment. Both Christian and environmental groups agree that we humans are biological components of our world and therefore the well-being of our ecosystem is directly affected by our behavor. Both groups believe that when we ignore our connection to the Creation we end up destroying both ourselves and the Earth. 

I believe the common ground between Christians and conservationists is the belief that sustainability begins with letting go of our own self-importance and awakening to our kinship with all of creation. 

Christians value nature, as seen in the Biblical concepts of stewardship of creation and compassion for all life. This common ground is what allows us to work with environmental groups and wildlife reserves. Together we are stronger than we are apart. Together we not only motivate but validate earth friendly behavioral,

Being part of Son Safaris for more than 10 years has taught me that Christians and conservationists are not at odds with one another. On the contrary, we each make the other more aware that we are all in this together—with the same goal: to stop the abuse of God’s creation.

I came to value Creation Care 50 years too late. What about you?

Take Your Shot

Last week one of my friends died from COVID-19, cutting short a productive life of ministry. He is only one of the more than 394,000 lives and counting that have been claimed by the pandemic in the USA alone in the past twelve months. Amid all this tragedy I experienced a glimmer of hope last week — injected into my left arm. At 6:30pm on January 13th I received the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.Fifteen minutes later I was on my way home.

Since this vaccine received emergency authorization on Dec. 11th, I have been anticipating getting this shot like a child waiting for Christmas morning. I could finally see light at the end of the tunnel. I could visualize a time when I wasn’t paranoid about contracting this lethal virus. When a friend alerted me that Piedmont Athens Hospital was emailing vaccination invitations to at risk patients, I checked my email and there it was – a link to schedule an appointment.

When my appointment came just three days later, the experience was very much like getting a flu shot. I felt a small prick as the vaccine was injected, then I got a vaccination record card, received instructions on scheduling my 2nd shot in twenty-one days, sat in a chair for fifteen minutes, and it was over. The whole experience was easy, even pleasant.

In the information provided I learned that the vaccine is designed to make the body think coronavirus proteins are invading, thus inducing an immune system attack that can then be remembered and reproduced if the real coronavirus is ever encountered. Because of this, there are a few common side effects: fatigue, nausea, muscle aches and mild fever.

Personally, I had a slight soreness at the injection site for a couple of days and no other side effects. Honestly, I felt exactly like I do after a flu shot. My own experience and everything I’ve read leads me to believe this vaccine and the Moderna one are safe. They went through rigorous clinical trials and are endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration advisory panel.  

Let me say that again, these vaccines are safe. They do not cause autism. They do not change your DNA. They do not contain “deep state” microchips. They are not part of some nefarious conspiracy. Believe medical experts and scientists, not Q-Anon wackos and anyone else fanning the flames of anti-vaccine skepticism.

Yes, we all have the freedom to choose to be vaccinated or not, but the least fortunate of us might not have the choice of surviving a COVID-19 infection. The more of us who are vaccinated, the more of our brothers and sisters we can protect. If not for yourself, please be vaccinated for your neighbor.

2020 is over, but this pandemic is not, and, if health experts are to be believed, more deaths are ahead of us. But we now have a glimmer of hope, a literal shot in the arm! Please sign up to be vaccinated through your local health department, hospital, Doctor, or pharmacy and persuade your family and friends to do the same.

The day after my vaccination, I was a little sorer but a whole lot safer. I did this to for my loved ones and myself. I did this to do my part to help us return to a normal life.

When your turn comes, get your shot!  Don’t throw away your chance to make the world a safer place.

It’s A Wonderful Life

The year 2020 can be summarized in one sentiment: please end.

In many ways this has been a wretched year. It has given us the Covid-19 pandemic, shelter at home, face masks, and social distancing. It has given us the awareness of several unarmed African Americans killed by police, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, demonstrations, counter demonstrations and the seemingly endless chatter of the US President on twitter. It has been an exhausting, fear filled year. A year in which Christmas might well provide a welcome sanctuary.

We all have favorite seasonal Christmas movies, many of which have become regular items on our holiday to do list. My list includes Miracle on 34th Street, Christmas Vacation, Elf, A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Story, and Santa Clause, The Movie. These seasonal movies have in common that they offer a welcome escape from life’s immediate realities and some also provide the added escape of nostalgia, conjuring up fond memories of Christmas past.

Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life is my favorite seasonal movie. No doubt my affection came about through its regular screening on television, in those bygone days before internet streaming, video disks, or even VCR tapes. But it is my favorite because I love the movie’s ending – perhaps Hollywood’s happiest happy ending. But I also like that it does not only offer easy comfort.

George Bailey, the central character, becomes suicidal when his uncle loses the family business bank deposit on Christmas Eve and George feels his life crushing in on him. He is so sure of his worthlessness that he wishes he had never been born. Clarence, his guardian angel, saves George by showing him what the world would be like if he got his wish. This directly leads to the movie’s joyful conclusion. But the loss deposit on Christmas Eve is only one in a series of hardships that George has endured.

George is the ultimate victim of life’s unpredictability. He defers his dreams to accommodate his father’s death, his brother’s marriage, and numerous family and business decisions. The Christmas season, and the loss and then theft of the business bank deposit, are the straws that break the camel’s back of his pent-up frustrations. It comes to a head with George storming into his home and, uncharacteristically, berating his family’s efforts to prepare for a festive Christmas Eve celebration.

Afterwards he feels desolate, depressed and alone, not only because of the events of that one day but from a lifetime of struggles. This is why, to rescue him from despair, Clarence needs to show George the wonderful contributions his whole life has made.

The movie is really about life’s injustices and characterizes the secular Christmas season as a time when life’s struggles are amplified, not muted. It reminds us that the way our culture celebrates Christmas can be difficult, unless we remind ourselves that it is one day out of the many that make up our lives.

I love the ending of this movie, but I’ve always wished I could see Mr. Potter get what he deserved. The deposit, loss then stolen, is replaced by the charitable donations of George’s friends and family but Mr Potter, the thief, goes unpunished. It’s A Wonderful Life contains a number of themes found in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but notable absent is that the one character most resembling Ebenezer Scrooge, namely Mr. Potter, has no kind of Scrooge-like redemption. Potter is a ruthless capitalist with no regard for fairness who likes to plaster his name on everything he builds. (Kinda reminds me of, well, never mind.) By leaving Potter unpunished, the movie resists the urge to perfectly wrap everything up on Christmas and leaves open the possibility that life’s inequities and struggles may continue beyond Christmas Day.

As I recently re-watched It’s A Wonderful Life it struck me that it is the perfect movie for Christmas 2020. Life’s imperfections are not smoothed over nor or the world’s problems solved through a deux ex machina. The next time you watch it pay attention to the way George reacts after he is granted his rebirth, note that the money is still lost, and his life is still hopelessly complicated. But George runs through the town shouting out joyful greetings to the buildings he passes, he bangs on Potter’s window and wishes him Merry Christmas, he welcomes the men who have come to arrest him, he gathers his children around him and kisses his wife over and over as if to be sure that he would not lose her again. George’s joy, in defiance of his problems, provides a 2020 kind of comfort to us. Not the comfort of denial or retreat from life’s hardship, but rather the comfort of embracing life’s hardships amid the joyful happiness of the Christmas season.

74 years ago, Frank Capra produced It’s A Wonderful Life, a movie about a man’s triumph over his chaotic unpredictable life. This movie’s title is also its message: Life is as wonderful as we make it. 2020 feels like the poster child of chaotic unpredictability, but this 74-year-old movie says clearly “been there, done that”. It comforts me to know that even in 2020 with a pandemic raging around us a wonderful life is ours for the living. A wonderful life is one lived in service to God and others.

2021 is, by the grace of God, another chance to have a wonderful life.

A Christmas Spectacular

In less than two weeks, on December 21, 2020 to be exact, there will be a special astronomical event: the closest great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 397 years. Yes, the year 2020 is trying to redeem itself by ending with a Christmas spectacular.

This occurrence is a must-see event. This Jupiter-Saturn conjunction will be the closest meet-up of these two gas giants, observable from earth, for nearly 800 years. From our perspective they will be so close that they will appear as a double planet, so close that the two giant planets can be seen in the field of a telescope or binoculars. 

Jupiter and Saturn will still be separated by hundreds of millions of miles, but to us, they will look like a “Christmas Star”.  Jamie Carter, a science writer for Forbes, reports that this “star” will actually be formed by the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn as viewed from Earth. Their appearance as a bright “double planet” was last observable from Earth on March 4, 1226.

After almost 800 years it can be seen in our night sky again. You don’t have to use telescope or binoculars, although they would be helpful. Here is how to be sure you don’t miss this once in a lifetime event: find a good viewing spot where tall buildings or mountains don’t obscure your view of the low southwestern horizon. Get to your viewing spot 15 to 30 minutes before nightfall. Right before and after  sunset the conjunction should be visible in most of the continental USA. We Southerners are in luck because the further north you the harder it will be to see. If you miss it on December 21, do not despair the two planets will still appear pretty close over the next few days according to Amy C. Oliver, a spokeswoman for the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian. She told the New York Times that on the days before and after Dec. 21, “as soon as it gets dark outside, everybody should go outside and take a look. For most adults, this is your one big opportunity to see this. Really young kids might get another chance. For the rest of us, it’s now or never.”

Priorities <= Identity

Identity = Priorities

We can often be tempted to put our loves and even likes front and center. When we do we open ourselves to perceive those who disagree as enemies, and they often perceive us as the same. Now we feel attacked so we call them evil and they reciprocate. Thus labeled it becomes difficult to engage in anything but war. Christians are called to war just not against people.

I grew up in a Christian family with a mom and dad who taught us that the key to fulfillment as Christians was to live out our calling to love others as we‘ve been loved ourselves by God. That means showing kindness and seeking to serve both believers and unbelievers, Both kindness and service are hard to exhibit when we at war with one another.

The seat of all this enmity is bound up in our priorities. I’m not referring to “to do” list priorities but to alliegiance priorities. Giving our first priority is God doesn’t mean we give up other things we prioritize it means we acknowledge that they are inferior to and will always come after our first priority. Christ should always be our first priority.

Christ is our first priority because we are his. 1 John 4:11 says, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Every person, no matter how little or how much they differ from us, is valuable and dearly loved by God. If we now bear his name it is because he cleansed us with his blood and adopted us into his family. We are saved by God’s grace or not at all. He gives us grace to live lives that reflect him in how we love and treat others. All others not just those who vote like we do and agree with the things we love and like.

Priority proceeds from identity. If our identity is a Jesus follower then we surrender our will and pursue his will for our lives to bring him glory through the way we choose to live our lives. If our identity is a self determination follower then we surrender our will to no one and “do it my way” to bring fame, fortune, success, pleasure to ourselves through the way we choose to live our lives. These are two starkly different paths with two starkly different outcomes.

Take for example “the cancel culture”. This pop culture term is simply descriptive of the latest form of ostracism in which someone is “cancelled” out of social or professional circles – both online on social media, and in the real world. This pop phenomena should have no place in the life of a Jesus follower. Why not? Because Jesus, truly one with the right to “cancel” anyone, instead chose to love us. The self determination follower decides whether to “cancel” someone based on what benefits their own goals.

Priority proceeds from identity. I want to focus for the rest of this post on those of us who identify as a Jesus follower. Our response to those with whom we disagree should drastically be changed by our identity and the priorities that proceed from it.

How should we respond to those with whom we disagree Politically.

No political party has the market cornered on Christian beliefs, regardless of their claims. No political party is the antiChrist, regardless of what the other party claims. I write now as one who went down the partisan rabbit hole and forgot these two facts. I thus alienated, rather than loved, those with whom I disagreed — I repent of this sin again and ask Jesus, whom I follow, to give me the grace to treat others as I would like to be treated. Thankfully, I am not the one whose path you follow! As Christians we should love our neighbors as ourselves. In fact the divine distinctive of the Christian is love. (John 13:35)

When someone disagrees with us politically, how should we react? Of course it is OK to react by expressing our political views, with these provisos:

  • avoid partisan speak (no easy task in our world today)
  • avoid “going on the offensive” to prove our political view is best
  • avoid letting a political discussion devolve into a political debate
  • instead of becoming defensive or going into debate mode:
    • take a deep breath
    • pray for an attitude adjustment
    • extend grace to him or her by being kind (even if you don’t think they deserve it)
  • remind yourself of a time when God extended grace to you

Basically we need to learn when to let it go and to always treat those with whom we disagree politically (or otherwise) gracefully by reminding ourselves that we owe our very lives to God being gracious to us.

How should we respond to our “enemies.”?

In the Gospel according to St Luke he records these words of Jesus: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” It doesn’t take a great exegete to discern what Jesus means here,

If they are “enemies” (perceived or real) Jesus says to love him or her. No room for “cancel culture here. Knowing how we like to cling to “give them what they deserve” Jesus says do good to him or her. Knowing how we like to “dish the dirt” Jesus says bless him or her. Knowing how we like to ignore those who oppose us Jesus says pray for him or her. Then after some particularly relevant examples of how to respond to your enemies Jesus says for us to treat him or her as we would like him or her to treat us.

In the Gospel according to St John he records these words of Jesus: “I give you a new commandment- to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples- if you have love for one another.

Whether it is someone who voted differently than us or someone who has become an enemy, we can chose to follow our feelings or follow Jesus. We can let the partisan divide invade our home, church, or workplace. We can argue our position and hammer at theirs until we have created an enemy. Or we can see them as those for whom Christ died, and treat them accordingly. We can shut them down or lift them up in love and read “between the lines” and try to understand why they see the world the way they do. We can each go our separate ways, or we can find unity in our faith. We can choose to hate, or we can choose to love.

These are peculiar days. The pandemic. The election. Nerves are frayed. But I believe this is the perfect time to walk our talk before a world wanting to know if what we say we believe is authentic. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner. Thank you for your saving grace. Please enable me to extend grace to others. Please give me a measure of your Holy Spirit and enable me thereby to love the unlovely just as you so graciously love me. Amen

Just The Facts

There are a lot of claims making the rounds on the internet about the legacy left by the Trump Administration. Some of the claims peaked my interest so I did some research to contextualize them in terms of President Trumps four years in office. This process always helps me discern the efficacy of the statement or claim as presented. Maybe this will be helpful to you as well. So here are the claims and my brief responses.

  • A gallon of gasoline today costs only a $1.80.
    • To put that in context the average cost of a gallon of gas in 2016 when Trump was elected was $2.14, in 2017 it cost $2.42, in 2018 it cost $2.72 and in 2019 it cost $2.60. The plunge in price during 2020 was caused by the worldwide drop in demand because people were “sheltering at home” to avoid getting or spreading the pandemic coronavirus.
    • www.statista.com
  • 30 year mortgage rate has dropped to only 2.45%
    • A average 30 year mortgage in 2016 was 3.65%, in 2017 it rose to 3.99%, in 2018 it rose to 4.54%, in 2019 it dropped to 3.94% and in 2020 it dropped to 3.62% until the pandemic caused the bottom to fall out of the housing market which caused the mortgage rate to drop to the present average of 2.45%. –www.freddiemac.com
  • During the 2020 election process the NYSE closed at a healthy 27,848.
    • In 2016 the stock market average closing was 17,927, in 2017 it rose to 21,750, in 2018 -it rose to 25,046, in 2019 it rose to 26,379 and the average close YTD in 2020 is 26,372. All in all an impressive growth rate.) –www.macrotrends.net
  • USA GDP growth for the 3rd Quarter of 2020 was 33%
    • To understand GDP quarterly growth percentage you have to understand that percentage is the annualized growth rate (as if it applied to 12 instead of 3 months) the applied as the percent of annualized growth in the 3rd Quarter over the annualized percent of growth in the 2nd Quarter. To put this into context this 33% is a historic jump for one quarter. However the percent of growth is historic not so much for its amount as for its cause. The almost complete shut down of our economy in the 2nd quarter was being reopened in the 3rd quarter. Assisting that reopening was the purpose of the CARES stimulus package. Put all that together and you realize that the 33% growth was a good sign but since it only references the 2nd quarter in reality the GDP rate of growth is still 10% under what it was in the 1st quarter at the beginning of the pandemic. –www.macrotrends.net
  • President Trump claims he built the greatest ever US economy prior to the coronavirus outbreak and that now it’s recovering faster than ever.
    • The economy was doing well prior to the pandemic – continuing a trend which began during the Obama administration – but there have been periods when it was much stronger. Since the historic economic contraction caused by the pandemic the economy has bounced back strongly but not faster than ever as it has a long way to go to reach pre-pandemic level. –https://www.bbc.com
  • Employment for all races was at an all time historical high prior to the pandemic.
    • Indeed, the unemployment rate among Black workers was the lowest ever, although it was still double that of white workers.-https://www.rand.org
  • There were no new wars during Trump’s presidency.
    • Although we continued during his entire term as President to wage the longest war in our history it is true that Trump joins John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as presidents who did not start any new wars during their administrations.-www.USAToday.com
  • The housing market is stronger than it has been in over 20 years.
    • The US housing market rose 5.4% in 2016, 6.3% in 2017, 4.1% in 2018, 2.5% in 2019 and 4.7% YTD in 2020. The US housing market is very strong now but it was even stronger in 2006 and 2014. So the housing market is the strongest it has been in over 5 years more truthful than claiming it is stronger than it has been in 20 years.-www.globalpropertyguide.comwww.ceicdata.com

Although there are other claims about and by the Trump administration, such as the claim that they have “ended the covid19 pandemic”, but I’ll let someone younger who is not still quarantined by the covid19 pandemic contextualize that one.

Why did I do all this research and why am I posting it here. One reason is simply that I’m retired so I have the time to do it. Another is that I’m good at and enjoy research. And last but not least I am sick and tired of undocumented half truths and untruths being posted on social media as fact. Once these claims are in the wild and go viral they further build up the partisan walls that divide us.

Do I think this will stop it? Not really, heck if a half dozen people read this it will be one of my more successful posts! But it sure felt good to dissect a few of these claims to see if they are true, half true, or misinformation. I’m sure that some who read this will conclude that I hate President Trump. To my shame I must admit that after the contentious election campaign of 2016 I did hate him or at least the public image of him. I repented of that sin and can say with a clear conscience that I do not hate either President Trump or citizen Trump. He still scares the hell out of me and I still find him untrustworthy so I pray fervently for him to receive wisdom to make the incredibly hard decisions he must make as President.

I also pray every morning that we as a nation will realize that we the people are more than our politics and become a kinder, more civil people. In short that we become what President Lincoln called our better angels.

Only then will President Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” have any hope of coming true.

Dead Man Walking

(This is a revisit to my blog post from August 2010.)

On this date (Aug 1) in 2010 I laid in a bed in a darkened room in the Cardiac Critical Care Unit at Athens Regional Hospital (now Piedmont Athens Regional). I was in day 5 of 7 days of a medically induced coma breathing thanks to a ventilator . It doesn’t seem a decade since God delivered me from death, but it was. What happened ten years ago changed my life forever.

On July 28, 2010 I signed up for a 30 minute cruise to St Mary’s Hospital. While on board I was to have both sides of my heart examined via a heart catheter. My cardiologist would be assisted by my pulmonologist, who had requested the test.  I knew my hospital journey could be extended were blocked arteries found, even then it would be a scant 3 hour tour. 

Just like Gilligan and the skipper too.

Three blocked arteries were discovered, all treatable with stents. However, the second stent tore the arterial wall, triggered a mild heart attack, and just like that my 3 hour tour ended up on Gilligan’s Island.  Actually, I was transferred to (then) Athens Regional Hospital, where the #1 Cardiac Surgery team in Athens was waiting to preform open heart surgery.  They opened my chest about 3:45 pm and as they were moving my heart to the cryonic operating chamber I had a massive heart attack. 

For the next 4 hours they alternated between operating on my heart and emergency medical procedures to keep me alive.  I died for 4 minutes but was resusitated. They repaired my heart, put me into a coma and sent me to CCCU.  I didn’t know I was on Gilligan’s Island until 7 days later when they brought me out of the coma. My first impressions were terrifying: I was bound hand and foot, with a ventilator jammed down my throat. I was in a strange bed, in a darkened room battling to take a breath just as if I was drowning. 

In fact I missed Gilligan’s Island and landed on the Isle of Dr. Moreau. 

How much do I actually remember of my journey to this point? Do I remember the experiences described above? From leaving home to coming out of my coma I remember nada, zip, zero, zilch.

All I knew was that I  was bound hand and food, felt like I was drowning, and had no idea where I was or how I got there. To this day this was the most terrified I have ever been.  But the terror subsided and I became aware of who I was, where I was, why I was there and discovered a vast  conspiracy. 

It was a conspiracy involving friends, family, CCF and UGA Alums, campus ministers, pastors, people of faith in churches around the world.  My baby brother Bryan flew  in from the Republic of Panama, my brother Phil, doing relief work in Haiti, began praying, my brother Scott, in Korea teaching, began praying,  Sheila, my incredible wife, not only prayed but lead the conspiracy to get others praying.  My daughters Melissa and Jennifer prayed and spread the word through their churches.  Their husbands David Berry and Eric Rubio prayed, arranged childcare for my 7 grandsons and freed my daughters to take care of their mom and me.  Our son John flew in from Maryland, praying all the way.  My mother and daddy joined the conspiracy of praying and getting others to pray.  Sheila’s brother, Boyd,  and her mother drove down from their farm in N. Georgia.  

My firstborn, Melissa, was tasked to do what no daughter who loves her daddy should ever have to do: tell everyone gathered that my chance of survival was 50/50 at best.  And what a group of conspirators had gathered at Athens Regional! The group had grown so large that the hospital gave them their own waiting room.  Melissa fulfilled her dreaded task but then lost it.   Her Uncle Boyd came to the rescue and took it off her shoulders.  He had everyone join hands and by all accounts delivered a stirring prayer.  Miracles were happening but all I knew was that I felt like I was in a dark place drowning.  I felt like I was on the Isle of Dr. Moreau. But the truth was greater than my feelings. The conspiracy of faith in Jesus that will not give up prevailed!

The armies of Narnia were on the move.

Once the ventilator was removed from my throat I could breath again. Then I discovered the joy of ice chips.  While I chomped on ice chips co-conspirators Sheila, Melissa, Jennifer and John began answering my questions and filling in the gaps for me.  Amazingly I was released from CCCU to the Cardiac Stepdown Unit only 24 hours after coming out of my coma.

There I would regain the strength to walk and do simple tasks for myself.  More significantly my time in CSU was when the conspiracy came more clearly into focus.  Angela Denton-Rachel came by one day and I revealed that she had gone on my computer found my meeting planner folder and sent what was needed to the leaders of the Association of Campus Ministries to begin their National Student Conference.  Angela ordered me to rest and let them take care of the Conference.  One of the things that is remarkable about her actions was that I had retired from CCF in July so all she did was totally an act of love and loyalty to me.  Of course she also was praying and enlisting others to pray. 

I remained in the CSU for about 8 days.  My time there was painful and wonderful.  I got my stamina up to where I could walk 60 feet, which sounds like nothing but, at the time, was quite significant.  I also used my time there to recover my spiritual stamina and began praying and telling any one who would listen my testimony of how Jesus had answered our prayers and mercifully saved my life. 

One day I sat on the bed with 2 of my 3 surgeons and asked them questions.  They gave me the details of the surgery I’ve written here.  They also were quite un-surgeon like in their belief that my being alive was a miracle.  Their word, not mine.  As gently as possible they told me that not one team member believed I would leave the operating table alive.  But I did.  Once I was in the CCCU they believed that I might survive but not without brain damage.  But I did (no more brain damage than when I went into surgery).  They were amazed when I woke from the coma, when I left CCCU only 1 day after the vent was removed, and that I could now walk 60 feet.  It takes a miracle to impress cardiac surgeons.  I thank God that he chose me to be that miracle!  I know I’m not worthy but I learned a long time ago that this is the way of grace.

After the CSU I was transferred into the Acute Surgical Rehab Center at St. Mary’s Hospital. There I was given 3 hours of therapy a day and re-learned about 35 essential life skills (like how to put on your socks without pulling your incisions open). God blessed me there with caring, knowledgeable therapists.

It has been 10 years, a full decade, since I became a dead man walking but I will never forget the conspiracy of those faithful followers of Jesus who would not give up.   Without them I would not be alive.  Because of them I have had ten years to serve the Lord Jesus who in his mercy answered the prayers of his people to deliver me from death. I see every opportunity to serve in the last decade as a coveted means for me to make the most of this miracle! Thank you Jesus! I never cease to marvel at how many people loved me then and now.  I am the most blessed man alive!

Long live the conspiracy of the faithful who will not give up. 

The armies of Narnia are on the move.

Imagine

This post is from my friend Jim Musser’s blog

As churches across the nation shut down their physical worship services this morning, many replacing them with livestreaming events, I began imagining what this new reality will look like two or three months from now. Will Christian communities basically become a plethora of TV churches, with everyone sitting in their own homes with their eyes fixated on screens watching the same worship services to which they are accustomed attending in person? The pastors preaching sermons. The worship bands on stages playing songs.

The pandemic we are facing has no comparison to all but literally a few people in the world, those who were infants or toddlers in 1918 when the so-called “Spanish Flu” ravaged the world, infecting over 500 million and killing 20-50 million people. And just as that pandemic was a lifelong marker in the lives of many of our great-grandparents and grandparents, so this one will be a marker for our lives.

The question is, what kind of marker will this leave for us personally and for the Church? For the moment, based on God’s promise in Romans 8:28 to work all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose, I want to imagine the good that will come out of this pandemic.

Imagine that Christians, instead of gathering in small groups around their computer or TV screens to watch livestreaming worship services, that they instead gather in homes to sing praises to the Lord, to pray for the world, the nation, their own communities, and for one another, and to read and discuss the Word of God. Perhaps they also enjoy a meal together that includes the Lord’s Supper. (Acts 2:42-47)

Imagine that believers truly humble themselves before the Lord in the face of this pandemic, recognizing that their lives are fragile and not guaranteed. (Psalm 39:4)

Imagine that Christians take an inventory of their priorities in life and move the Lord from the periphery of their lives to the center, making him the driving force rather than merely a side attraction. (John 14:21)

Imagine that Christians in communities, rather than isolating themselves from everyone, seek to serve those who are isolated out of necessity—the elderly and the sick—by bringing them food, household supplies, and medicine, by checking on them and even visiting them for awhile. (Matthew 25:34-36)

Imagine that followers of Jesus, rather than hoarding supplies such as sanitizers, toilet paper, and food, that they would look to share those things with others in need. (II Corinthians 8:13-15)

Imagine that in a time of economic hardship, Christians will be generous toward one another, making sure their brothers and sisters have what they need. (Acts 4:32-35)

Imagine that believers remain full of hope and peace instead of the despair and fear taking hold of the country, because they are confident in the power and love of the Lord. (Romans 8:35-38)

Imagine that Christians in our nation act as the true Church has always acted: loving one another, serving one another, meeting each other’s needs, risking their lives for the sake of serving Jesus, and being a light of hope and peace for the unbelieving world. Imagine believers across our country, rather than being participants in an institution, instead are an integral part of a community who are united in their love for and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Imagine believers once again being the Church.

© Jim Musser 2020

Not to be Taken for Granted

The Hudson Family photo Thanksgiving 2019

I grew up with a dad, mom, three younger brothers, three first cousins my age, two grandmothers, one grandfather, ten uncles and aunts, several great uncles and aunts and more cousins than I can count. Growing up I took my amazing family for granted; only now am I able to see what a blessing and gift was our big extended family.

This Thanksgiving I took family photos for my mother and each of my brothers. Our two daughters, their husbands, and our seven grandsons were with their own families a state away but there were still 35 of us gathered together for Thanksgiving Day. It struck me what a wonderful feeling it is that we can count on this one simple day out of the year to bring us all together. Not even Christmas would bring each family together in one place.

The beautiful part of Thanksgiving was not the fantastic meal but the family time. Children of all ages spend time creating simple crafts, doing group activities, running in and out of the house, while the older children ate sweets and taught the toddlers to identify their great uncles and aunts. To understand why this particular Thanksgiving Day filled me with gratitude, it is probably important to point out that I have gone from oldest brother to the second oldest person in our extended family. My youth ended over fifty years ago and although my place in the family has gone from little boy to old man it is nice to know that our extended family still finds joy in being together. Even if it is only one day a year.

I am filled with gratitude for our big messy family. I am grateful for those who were together this Thanksgiving and for those we missed who couldn’t make it. I am especially grateful for those who are no longer with us but whose legacy to my generation is this not to be taken for granted family!

 

 

Cultivate and Care

Apollo 11 Earth_croppedGod created everything that is. The universe; the Milky Way and all other galaxies; the Sun and all other stars; the Solar System and all other solar systems; the Moon and all other moons; the Earth and all other planets, etc. He created all life and all the ecosystems to sustain that life then He created Humankind to take care of all he created on planet Earth. With stewardship of His creation in place he declared all His creation on planet Earth as good. 

Genesis 2:15 is His mandate for humankind, His crowning creation. Here humankind is entrusted with the cultivation and care of the world He created as our home.

The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it

My struggle to take this mandate seriously has been aided by a few key insights that I want to briefly share with you.  I now believe that the purpose for which humankind was created was to be caretakers of God’s creation.

  • Creation

Our call to be responsible stewards of the environment is rooted in the biblical account of creation in which the earth was entrusted to our care. Humankind is created to cultivate and care for God’s creation.

  • Solidarity

The challenge of protecting the environment requires that the Church look beyond national, cultural, and other human boundaries to work for the common good of all. Citizens of the kingdom of God standing in solidarity can overcome any nation, any culture and any other boundaries which keep us from obeying our mandate.

  • Stewardship

Care for creation is fundamentally an act of stewardship. As faithful stewards we should receive the gift of creation gratefully, nurture it responsibly, share it justly and charitably, and return it to God abundantly.  As faithful stewards  we should love all of God’s vast creation, recognize God, the Creator, as He reveals Himself through His creation and nurture our environment to the glory of God..

  • Respect

The way we treat the environment is often mirrored in the way we treat one another. In other words the respect we show to God’s creation is reflected in the respect we have for one another. Disrespect (abuse) of the environment disproportionally impacts the poor, but impacts all of us as we are all dependent on the earth for our physical existence just as we are all dependent on God for our spiritual existence. Showing respect for this planet God has entrusted to us is just another way for us to respect one another since care for our environment is one way to see that all have their basic needs met.

Questions to ponder

  1. If we have a mandate to cultivate and care for God’s creation and we instead abuse it carelessly what does that say about our respect for God?
  2. If God made us stewards of His creation when he returns will he call us good and faithful stewards?
  3. If the Church united in solidarity against any political boundary or corporate power allowing hunger, disease and pain to flourish when its remedy already exists in God’s creation what impact would that have on how the world views the Church?
  4. Do we truly love God if we hate one another and His creation itself?
  5. Do we truly respect God if we disrespect one another and His creation itself?